Wednesday 3 April 2013

Cambridge Cycling Campaign - Why are they shy of the County Council?

UPDATE: Cambridge Cycling Campaign published their bi-monthly newsletter recently, which included some good stuff on the Catholic Church Junction, and some not so good stuff on their relationship with the media and the County. I've added comments thereon to the bottom of this post.

I don't lie awake at night wondering how I can wail on Cambridge Cycling Campaign. But sometimes they do try to prod me into it.

I don't dislike them. There are good, well meaning folk there, and some of their recent statements have been spot on. A good example would be their response to this woeful proposal for the Catholic Church Junction - I thought that their comments were very good. A little less forceful than I'd be where our lives are at risk (and lets be clear - cyclists WILL suffer serious injury and/or death as a result of our County Council refusing to prioritise us in any meaningful way at this junction), but the Campaign have covered the facts well there I think.

And there are things only a group like Cambridge Cycling Campaign can do - they get to planning meetings and council meetings and report back what happens that is of relevance to cyclists - they go through planning applications presented and put forward what they see as a cyclists set of priorities. The time and, crucially, person-power they can bring to bear on these areas is invaluable. I want to make it absolutely clear that I'm not anti-Cambridge Cycling Campaign. But there are times when I can't help but wonder what the hell is going on with them and why they're so wedded to holding out the bike cap and begging like some Dickensian pity figure.

Take this example here showing a not atypical response from the Campaign. The County Council do not give give a flying feck for the lives of cyclists - the very best facilities we get out of them are demonstrably not good enough. This is a bunch of social and economic extremist councillors who don't understand that being pro-bike is not being anti-car - for whom victim blame is the normal way of dealing with cyclists, hiding behind the 'mutual respect' fallacy and crying foul when exposed as speaking complete crap. Cambridgeshire County Council is an entirely car-centric organisation with no interest in cycling or cyclists, made up of councillors who want to fob us off with sub-standard or non-existent infrastructure while directing the police to target us for merely trying to stay alive.

This County Council is not about to have a Road to Damascus change of heart and start treating cyclists like human beings. They aren't going to invest in safe roads for us, they're going to continue fannying on wasting money on changes that don't much help us. So why is it Cambridge Cycling Campaign are so afraid of treating the County Council as what it is - the enemy not merely of cyclists but of anyone who wouldn't render down their first born child to extract another couple of litres of diesel?

Possibly they think they've got more influence by being chummy - the Catholic Church debacle clearly shows that isn't the case. Yeah, we get the odd improvement, but are we getting what we need? No, we clearly aren't. Seriously guys, are you actually afraid that these minor improvements aren't going to happen because you speak out against what is otherwise an anti-cyclist regime? Are you that afraid of what happens if you're seen to publicly tear shreds out of people who hold cyclists in contempt anyway?

Lets compare Cambridge, supposedly cycling capital of Britain, with our actual capital London. In London 10,000 cyclists got together in a well organised demo. Then the flashrides have made headlines. In fact London cyclists, through tireless direct demonstrations, have achieved the greatest pledge for a cycling infrastructure package in the history of the UK. And in Cambridge? We get a trivially less shit junction at monumental cost to the road safety budget and cut-through routes that help us make journeys we wouldn't make because they fail to grant safe access to the roads we actually need to use.

What works best, direct activism or quietly chipping away? Cambridge Cycling Campaign, I want to love you, but you are being left behind. And therefore cyclists in Cambridge are being left behind - your presence makes getting County to take anyone else seriously basically impossible, they routinely and uniformly refer to you as THE cyclist group -  and, frankly, bizarre twitter outbursts don't endear you to anyone.

Can we call it quits? Do you want to start again and tell us all why you don't see the County Council as what they clearly are - an institutionally car-centric, anti-environment, anti-cyclist bunch of crazy ass nutters? Or, at the risk of using an emotive term, are you going to continue on your softly-softly collaborationist path?

UPDATE: It seems that not all are happy at the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. I'm going to quote from their newsletter, a passage from here, by Martin Lucas-Smith.
As explained in the next article, Cambridgeshire County Council has decided to prioritise car traffic over cycle safety at the Catholic Church, the site of many collisions in recent years. Cyclists will remain unsafely squeezed in, and the opportunity to increase levels of cycling has been rejected.
The junction designs attracted an unprecedented amount of debate within the Cambridge Cycling Campaign committee. Some of us (myself included) argued for a complete, outright rejection of the plans in their entirety. The compromise reached was to state very clearly that the plans do not go far enough – and that we expect the County to do much more. The scheme is better than the current junction design. It will slightly improve things for those cycling towards the junction from Hills Road.
You don't have to be an expert at reading between the lines to see that there are factions at Cambridge Cycling Campaign - one is clearly in favour of holding out for good infrastructure and rejecting idiotic wastes of money by bike hating councillors who resent us for scratching the undersides of 'road tax' paying Tory-mobiles. The other faction fear that standing up to this crap will lead to us being left with less than the scraps on offer, and they will boast quite literally for years on end about past triumphs such as all the other crap facilities we've wasted public money on.

I can't see how it isn't clear to everyone at the Campaign - when the maximum on offer is less than the minimum we should reasonably accept, its time to change your strategy to extract more from your enemy - and if the County wasting half a million quid of cycling safety money on a couple of tins of paint to put another bad cycle lane on a killer junction while spending the rest of it on faster access for motorists doesn't show that they are our enemy, I can't think what would.

I doubt whether Martin reads this, but if you do, can I just point out that while you see it as a good working relationship with the County, they've just f***ed us. Again. Time to change strategy. What worked in London will work here. Up for it?


  1. I went to my first Cambridge Cycling Campaign meeting on Tuesday. There were 20-30 people there out of 1100+ members, so hardly representative of the campaign. However it is reasonable to assume it was representative of the people who actually do the scrutiny and talk to the councils.

    There was generally a consensus on Go Dutch as the ideal. In fact I asked a few people about it specifically. However there are differences of opinion over details, and yes, approach.

    Go Dutch is also what Ely Cycling are pushing for, incidentally, which was the main talk of the evening.

    Anyway, perhaps if more people like you and I actually turned up to the meetings we might be able to have an effect on the campaign's party line. Whether it actually achieves any more than the current state of affairs is another matter. The county are still free to ignore the campaign. For the Tory majority there is little to gain from city votes.

    1. I've had that discussion with exec members of the Campaign before; if I don't like how they do things, why not join and try to change how they do things? This is a bizarre stance for them to take; I don't like how lots of different campaign groups, charities and political parties approach the problems of the world, but I don't joint them all and fight that they change policies.

      I think I would be very likely to join a CCC if they would take some real action that might get us where we need to be - on our congested city streets, a regular CM would pay dividends here. Can't happen while CCC remain effectively in the pocket of the County Council who will continue to point to the CCC as their consultants in this regard. For some reason CCC have never quite got that the County have effectively used them as patsies for years.

      That said, I think there are some good folk at CCC. I just can't work out why as an organisation its so limp.

    2. How about joining Ely Cycling then? We share a county council and in the first flush of starting up they are committed to Go Dutch and not compromise.

      It could help Cambridge if the county is getting the same message on cycling from more than one troublesome district, and if they have any success it acts as a near-by example to point to about how it can work.

      It seems more likely to have an effect than individually ranting on the internet. Much as I enjoy ranting, I'd rather see change.

    3. Worth at thought... Or instead start another campaign group here.

  2. A big part of the problem is that many people aren't part of a "Cycling" campaign, but are really part of a "Cyclists" campaign – there to make improvements for existing (vehicular) cyclists. I think the language of "us" referring to "cyclists" is quite damaging. Cycling campaign groups should really focus on cycling for everyone.

    So, as they're focussed on small improvements for existing committed cyclists, you'll get more dangerous crap like this hailed as some great leap forward. While it may alleviate problems for existing cyclists, it will do nothing to convince anybody to ditch the car.

    Many campaigners are self-interested, rather than civic-minded, it seems.

    1. Ahh, yes. The bridge. Worthy of a blog post itself.

      I agree that all too often what is good for campaigners is not what is good for cycling. I cant disagree with anything you have said there.

  3. guarded support from a cycle campaign is still taken as support.

    outright denunciation plus press releases may have more effect

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Quite. For some reason some members blocked such a response. And thus achieved nothing.

  4. You want to try working for a Tory car-centric Council - it "drives" you mad!

    My principal problem with some campaigners is that they do take an unreasonable and personal stance at council officers, rather than taking on those who actually make the decisions (politicians).

    The problem then becomes one of reporting comments back from campaigners to committee. I have witnessed politicians using campaigner's comments to throw out schemes.

    Holding out for the perfect scheme is laudable, but risks that nothing will get done and the politicians will get used to doing nothing. That is not to accept poor provision, but be cleverer with the long-game.

    1. I would never argue that we must hold out for 'perfect' schemes - merely for schemes that are good enough to justify their expense, especially when the budget thus allocated is specifically from the money meant to be spent on cyclist safety. In the case of the Catholic Church junction an outright rejection of this crap would have sent a better message I think.

      The other obvious example here is Gilbert Road - now we've got a 'good' facility (for which read 'better but demonstrably nothing like good enough') the same councillors who tell us its good enough have directed the Police to target cyclists on the pavement. That a high rate of pavement cycling is strong evidence that the route isn't good enough is completely lost on them - and indeed on Cambridge Cycling Campaign who invested so much, politically, in the scheme.

      I agree its wrong to be all personal with planners - but I wouldn't shy off criticising bad plans on those grounds.

    2. Hi Ranty Highwayman.

      I think it depends on what you want. If you want a more pleasant journey than the one you currently have, then any improvement is better than nothing.

      If, like me, you want increased modal share, particularly among more vulnerable groups, then slight improvement may as well be nothing. It won't encourage any new cyclists.

      Existing cyclists may well reject slight improvements as still inferior to other options e.g. vehicular cycling on road.

      So you're left with having spent lots of money for little gain, and this is what get remembered the next time a cycling improvement is proposed. You've still failed the long game.

      In the particular case of the Catholic Church junction, I'm not even sure about the claims that this is an improvement for cyclists. Advance greens are a great idea - and utterly useless if you can't safely reach the front of the traffic. The nightmare situation is that the rest of the infrastructure doesn't back up the advance greens, they get ignored and someone ends up injured or killed because of it.